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The Restaurant Critic's Wife by Elizabeth LaBan

Interview with Elizabeth LaBan

Restaurant Critic

Momtrends: What inspired you to write your first adult novel The Restaurant Critic’s Wife?

Elizabeth: For years I thought about writing fiction, but it was so intimidating to consider writing an actual novel. When my husband and I lived in New Orleans after we were first married, I wrote a children’s picture book about our cat who had been a stray before we adopted her. She had a crazy backstory, which I won’t bore you with here, but we ended up naming her A Streetcat Named Desire, and we called her Desire. Actually, she makes a cameo appearance in The Restaurant Critic’s Wife. In the children’s book, the cat is alone and completely down on her luck, and ends up being adopted by the local restaurant critic and his wife, and gets to eat all the best food in the city. It is a cute story which I have shown to my agent, but never tried to sell (at least not yet). I think that was really when turning my life, specifically what it is like to be married to a restaurant critic, into fiction. There was only so much I could do with our cat’s story, so I started writing more, expanding the list of characters, and Lila and Sam were born.

Momtrends:How did you blend your husband’s personal experiences as a restaurant critic with those of your fictional character Sam? Is maintaining anonymity an essential part of the job as it’s portrayed in the book?

Restaurant Critic's Wife cover

Elizabeth: There are many moments in the book - particularly in the restaurants – that are based on real moments we shared, but nothing is written exactly as it happened. Still, sometimes my husband or I will remember something and we won’t be quite sure if it was real or something I wrote. With that in mind, Craig is still very careful about trying to remain unknown with the hope of slipping in to a restaurant unnoticed. He does many of the same things Sam does – not making a reservation in his name, having people call him by a different first name at dinner – but Sam takes it a step beyond. He is a crazy man about it. As far as I’m concerned, Craig is very reasonable. It is with the characters and the stories of their lives that things really differ from us.

Momtrends: As women, we often struggle with trying to become “perfect” mothers, wives, and friends. How does your character Lila Soto learn to cope with her slight imperfections during this transitional period in her life?

Elizabeth: I like Lila’s transformation a lot. Before she stopped working to be a full-time mother, she was a crisis manager for an international hotel and resort chain, and she was good at her job. She could deal with anything. With a young daughter and an infant son, however, she is constantly surprised that she can’t handle the seemingly simple things they throw her way. She longs for her work days when she felt more in control. I think that is a pretty common feeling for new mothers – not matter where they are coming from. I don’t want to give too much away, but it is with the help of her former colleagues, friends, and most important, her family that she works to gain her equilibrium and happiness. Getting her confidence back also helps a lot.

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Momtrends:What advice would you share with first-time moms who are grappling with the decision to return to work or become a stay-at-home mom?

Elizabeth LaBan photo credit Andrea Cipriani Mecchi

Elizabeth: Oh, this is a hard one. I don’t feel like I could ever advise someone to stay home or go back to work. I find people almost always know what they want and somehow, amazingly, make it work. I always hoped to be able to stay home, but I am lucky enough to have a career that I can do almost entirely from my dining room table (though I didn’t know exactly how I would go about doing that at the time). I really think people have to do what works best for them and their family.

Momtrends:Are you currently at work on your next project? If so, what may you share with our readers?

Elizabeth: I am! I am almost finished with another women’s fiction book about friendships among couples, and how far and close is too far and close. I wrote it with a former neighbor (who is also a friend), and we are both very excited about it. I have also written another young adult book.

To learn more about Elizabeth, please visit her website

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